The hospitality industry is one of the most competitive out there, with the average hotel receiving more than 10,000 searches per month.
With the rise of shared-space platforms such as Airbnb, this sector generates 10.4% of the world’s GDP (a figure that’s expected to rise in the next 10 years).
Individual hotels must compete with mammoth online price comparison sites that have a huge presence and can often afford to slash prices. As a result, many hotels are forced into the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” scenario and pay a premium in fees for any bookings made through one of these sites.
Direct bookings are much more lucrative, thought to be around 9% more profitable (as of 2016) than bookings made through hotel partner sites.
With these growing numbers in mind, hotel owners in 2020 are under pressure to develop a winning local SEO strategy that will get them found in search and attract more visitors to their websites.
Google is continually evolving the way hotel listings feature in search results, and hoteliers must keep up with changes in the local SEO landscape that are pertinent to them.
In the past few years Google has introduced a whole host of new features for hotels, including in-SERP “Book Now” buttons, new layouts, and location tabs in knowledge panels. In 2019, Google even launched its own hotel offering to compete with the likes of Booking.com and Expedia.
At this rate, who knows what 2020 holds for hotels?
Whatever future changes Google may have in store, it’s important to keep on top of best practices for search — local and otherwise.
In this article, I’ll explore some easily actionable tactics you can implement to enhance your hotel’s visibility online, boost website traffic, and, in the process, increase direct sales.
1. Research and implement relevant keywords
The most successful hotel websites will have developed a list of relevant keywords that is regularly reviewed and amended.
Screenshot of Ahrefs’ keyword explorer
Developing a list of target keywords is not a one-time task. Business needs, consumer buying and searching habits, and search engine algorithms are all subject to change, so it’s important to think of your keywords list as something that will evolve with your business and customers.
Researching your keywords
Consider what a prospective guest would search for if they were looking for accommodation in the local area. Ranking for specific phrases such as “boutique hotel in Washington” will drive traffic with a high buying intent to the hotel website, for example.
Google’s free Keyword Planner tool in Google Ads is great for identifying the terms people are searching for. You can also use in-SERP features such as Google’s autosuggest (pictured above) and ‘people also ask’s (pictured below). Alternatively, tools like Ahrefs and BuzzSumo can provide useful keyword suggestions.
Once you’ve got your researched keywords in order, you can begin including them in your content.
If your keyword research shows that a lot of people in your area are looking for child-friendly hotels, consider writing content about your hotel’s offerings for families, or city guides for families with young children.
Beware of being too heavy-handed with keywords in website content and metadata. Google can dish out penalties if it identifies “keyword stuffing” in meta titles and descriptions, on-page content, alt tags, content that has earned a backlink to the hotel’s site, or the page permalink structure. When it comes to writing your content, the keywords should act as a prompt and foundation, but at the forefront of your mind should be your potential guest’s needs and wants.
Tracking keyword success
You should regularly monitor keyword performance and adapt your target phrases accordingly.
You could even undertake this process manually — though you’d be giving yourself quite the task — by setting up a spreadsheet with keywords, ranking content, and SERP position.
If you find your keywords aren’t working as they should, continue your research and refine them further. Finding the right keywords for your business can be an ongoing process, so don’t worry if you don’t hit the jackpot first time around.
As a hotel, likely welcoming guests from around the world, it’s also important to ensure you’re checking your rankings from different locations. Using a tool like Local Search Results Checker means you can generate search results from any given location. You can go better with a tool like Local Search Grid, which shows you exactly how your keyword is performing in any number of local searches performed across an area.
When it comes to choosing your keywords, choose a healthy mix of primary, secondary, and long-tail keywords to capture people at all stages of the buyer’s journey.
2. Create high-quality content with a local focus
Including high-quality, localized content is a great place to start when looking to improve a hotel’s local search ranking. Relevant local content also helps to provide a better user experience and increase conversions by giving visitors the information they need before making a booking.
In terms of customer experience, this is one of the best tactics hotels can apply when hoping to beat the huge price-comparison sites, which tend to offer basic, generic destination information. By injecting a little personality or offering insight into a destination from a local’s perspective, the hotel website can become a valuable travel resource.
Local content might include a calendar of events, detailed destination guides, or information about authentic local experiences. Some hotels go beyond even that, offering localized content by partnering up with other local businesses to provide experiences and activities that will appeal to their target audience.
Remember to use your keyword research to help inform the content creation process.
Not all content has to result in blog-form either. A great example of going above and beyond is Fifth Avenue’s five-star Peninsula Hotel. The luxury venue created the Peninsula Academy (pictured above) to offer “unique and unprecedented access to historical, cultural, and local lifestyle experiences in New York City.” These local experiences for adults and children include cooking sessions and pre-opening tours of art exhibitions. Experiences like these serve as a fantastic USP (Unique Selling Proposition) for the hotel.
You may not be able to create your own academy to base content around, but could you consider collaborating with a local business for smaller events? Or reach out to influencers to help you create relevant content?
Remember, anything you do can (and should) be shared with potential guests online.
3. Get found on Google Maps
Set up your Google My Business (GMB) profile
Like most local businesses, gaining visibility online is vital for hotels to attract new customers.
Google Maps is a great tool for businesses and consumers, and any hotel that does not have a listing is missing out. Quite literally, without a GMB listing you will not be found on Google Maps!
If you haven’t done so already, read through our Google my business for hotels guide and ensure that searchers can find you on Google Maps. Though less commonly used, it’s also worth registering with Apple Maps and Waze.
Optimize your listing
In this competitive industry, it’s not enough to merely have a presence on Google Maps — the listing must be well optimized to drive traffic to the website and guests to the hotel.
Google will show the nearest, most relevant results for the user’s search term. But it also takes into consideration how complete and accurate a GMB listing is when determining which businesses to give the top spot to. The more information you provide Google with, the more it can be sure that your business is authentic and relevant to the user’s query.
Any information you include in your GMB listing should be up-to-date, relevant to users, and accurate to your business.
Ensure any information listed on your GMB reflects the information shared on your hotel’s website and any offline materials such as business cards or flyers. Not only is NAP consistency important to Google, but it’s vital to avoid customer confusion.
How to list a sub-business
In some cases hotels will have other businesses within them, for example a spa, salon, or restaurant. If this is the case you’ll want to ensure it’s listed as a sub-business on GMB.
Say your hotel is open 24/7, but the salon inside operates from 9-5, they’ll need separate listings.
To list a sub-business on GMB, simply create two distinct listings (URLs, phone numbers, and addresses should all be unique and point to the relevant business). Then, on your sub-listing (e.g. the spa) scroll to the “Located in” section in settings. Here you can select your main business’s listing (e.g. the hotel). Once approved, your spa or sub-business will be independently discoverable on GMB and reflect the accurate information.
Stand out among competitors
With so much competition, it’s important to make your GMB listing as engaging as possible. Videos, photographs, and Q&A all come into this. Why not share a video tour of the hotel? Photos of the rooms or restaurants? Q&As highlighting special features? The more visually engaging you can make your listing, the better your chances of being found and converting those searchers who do find you.
Google’s Q&A feature is a must-use for hotels. Many businesses don’t realize that you can add your own questions, and even answer them too. Think of Google Q&A as an on-SERP FAQ for customers to find out more about your hotel. For example: What time is breakfast served until? When can I check in? What facilities are available on site? Think about what a potential guest would want to know and base your Q&A around that.
4. Develop a review strategy
Another key component to optimizing your GMB and appearing in Maps searches is obtaining reviews. Review generation can sometimes be a daunting task, but it shouldn’t be.
If you don’t already have one in place, working on creating a streamlined review generation and management strategy should be a priority.
Whether you choose to reach out to guests via email, send them a post-stay SMS, link your GMB profile on a business card, or something else — you’ll want a high volume of quality reviews from genuine guests.
When it comes to how many consumers read online reviews, hotels rank in the top five. And of consumers who read online reviews, 47% of consumers will only visit a business with a star-rating of four or more.
So if you haven’t already, start requesting reviews now.
Respond to reviews
Once you’ve started receiving those all-important reviews, be sure to start responding in a timely manner.
Of all consumers that read online reviews, 97% read businesses’ responses to them. So communicating with customers who have taken the time to provide feedback is key, not only to maintain existing customers, but also to showcase your great customer service to potential new ones.
And yes, responding to reviews means responding to the negative ones, too.
5. Improve page load speed
The rise of mobile search has been dramatic in recent years and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping. CNBC predicts that 72.6% of internet users will access the web solely through their mobile phones by 2025. Mobile search is especially relevant to the hotel industry as many users will conduct searches such as “hotels near me,” while they are on-the-go and need immediate results. Potential guests will not wait minutes for a page to load when they can easily skip to a competitor’s site and access the information they need within seconds.
Numerous free online tools can check page speed, such as Google’s Page Speed Test. It’s important to check several key pages as load speed can vary across a website.
Load speed can be a tricky thing to get right for hotels as images are a vital element of good website design, yet can slow down a page’s load time. But there are some simple solutions to minimize slow loading times, such as installing a WordPress plugin like Imagify.
Page load speed is taken into consideration by Google’s ranking algorithm, so it’s worth putting in the effort to get it right. And above all, slow page load times make for a bad user experience.
A hotel with a good page load speed will likely enjoy better rankings and attract more guests via searches, so it’s worth putting in the effort to get this right.
6. Build local links
A practice as old as time, to this day backlinks are still SEO gold for any business’s website, and the hotel industry is no different. However, some companies fall into the trap of chasing quantity rather than quality. You should carefully vet any site you plan to gain a backlink from to ensure that it is authoritative and relevant. If in doubt, ask yourself “Does the link make sense for my hotel?”
Local links from tourism centers, festivals, excursion companies, and providers of leisure activities would be highly relevant and beneficial. Linking to these businesses in on-site local content, such as in-depth neighborhood guides, is a great way to build relationships and secure backlinks.
7. Help users find you online
It’s also important to seek out relevant online directories where the hotel can be listed. These might include local business directories or hospitality industry-specific directories. Building citations online is still a local ranking factor, but arguably more importantly, it ensures guests can find your hotel easily. Again, NAP consistency is important to get right here, so it’s worth checking your existing online presence for duplicate listings and inaccuracies.
Hospitality is an increasingly competitive market to operate in, but there are plenty of tactics and strategies that can boost traffic and make you more visible in local SERPs.
Hotel owners must keep up to speed with changes in consumer booking preferences and Google updates to keep ahead of the competition.
If you take just one thing away from this article, it should be that a hotel website is never “finished”. It is a continually evolving marketing tool that, when used effectively, can generate leads and enhance brand awareness.
Review your site regularly or look into a professional website SEO review to ensure your site is optimized for search.
2020 could be a great year for hotels — especially if you implement these simple steps towards a winning local SEO strategy.